Ernie Ladd and John White were very big men with very big and loving hearts. They gave back to the community by establishing a youth program in Houston, Texas.
In memory of these AFL players who have inspired NFL players, these words are shared:
"Each one shares his glory. Each one shares his beauty. And in so doing, each one makes his indelible impression on mankind."
This thought is in a poem I wrote in 1988. I was thinking about my life, and my experiences at Texas Southern University and at Texas A & M University, in College Station. At the time I wrote those sentences I was working on a doctorate in pure mathematics, and so many of the senior mathematicians seemed like giants and geniuses when I compared myself to them.
Several years before this moment I met a very big man named John White. John White was a gentle giant in the Houston community.
He was a partner with another very big man who played in the NFL, Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd. Both of these big men found a way to give back a part of their gift to the community.
With the help of a man who now has a library named for him, John B. Coleman, these two football players started a program for troubled young men. It was called, P.U.L.L.
John White played pro football for only two years. He was with the Houston Oilers. Ernie Ladd's career was longer and widely publicized. He transitioned from pro football to professional wrestling.
Years ago I actually interviewed John White in his office in Houston, Texas. He was remarkably kind, but as I sat in his presence, I thought, "This is the biggest man I have ever seen."
His colleague, however, was even bigger. Ladd was 6 ft. 9 in. tall. Some guys said that when they played against Ladd, they could only see darkness, because Ladd blocked out the light.
"At 6'9" and 315 pounds, Ladd was arguably the biggest and strongest man in professional football during his era: 52-inch chest, 39-inch waist, 20-inch biceps, 19-inch neck, 20-inch calf, and size 18D shoes."
One man in Texas said, he wanted to get a pair of Ernie Ladd's shoes for the museum he has at his home. He called Ladd's wife, but it was too late. She gave the shoes to a Hall of Fame.
Both of these men, White and Ladd, were differently gifted. Yes, they were athletic, but they were gifted to have a heart for young people. They had the connections, the support and the right attitude to share their energy, wisdom and talent with kids who had lost their way.
Kids who were in and out of jail would find their way to P.U.L.L. and would be steered in a better direction to make it in society.
As I think back to 1988, I remember that the same philanthropist who helped me at Texas A&M University, also helped the ex-NFL players. Dr. John B. Coleman was gifted to have contacts with the sports, academic, political and medical world in the United States.
An article that I read on May 7, 2009, near 10 pm, revealed that Coleman helped to fund the youth project led by White and Ladd. I smiled.
Now as I look back I see connections. John Coleman helped John White and Ernie Ladd. John White helped one of my associates during those years. Another former NFL player who was helped by White and Ladd is now helping his relative who lost her husband nearly 30 years ago when her children were very young.
As an observer, I, too, have been helped as I see the flow of love and support, from one to another.
The two big guys helped hundreds of young men change their lives. It is reasonable to conjecture that those young men are now old men, and that they too have helped someone.
The flow continues, and the poem continues:
"How can I say the beauty of a rose exceeds the beauty of a lily;
or the strength of a lion exceeds the gentleness of a lamb...."
This tribute is dedicated to men like Ernie Ladd and John White. These men have the strength of a lion, and the gentleness of a lamb. They have made (and are making) a lasting impression on society.
Note: P.U.L.L. was the acronym for Professionals United Leadership League.